It is pretty much a known fact that Manila has lost a lot of important and beloved structures during World War II. Quite many of them were no longer rebuilt and some were rebuilt but had lost the prewar grandeur that it once had. Rare it is to see a structure that was destroyed by war and rebuilt as faithfully as the one that came before it for the present and future generations to appreciate. A feat that ECJ Building in Intramuros managed to achieve and matched only by a few others.
To understand the importance of this building, it is imperative to know the history of this particular site, one that gone quite a variety of transformations as we shall soon see here.
The original and its ecclesiastical life
In the beginning, it was the site of a convent, the Augustinian Provincial House or Casa Procuracion. The original structure, surprisingly, was not constructed in the 17th, 18th, or early 19th century as many structures in the Walled City. In fact, it is one of Intramuros’ “younger” structures, which was completed only in 1896, at the tail end of Spanish rule in the country.
The reason why it was constructed that late was because Casa Procuracion was meant to serve as an extension to the San Agustin Church and convent which was right across it. With the convent no longer enough to accommodate the growing number of Augustinian missionaries that were arriving in the country, the decision was made to build a new structure nearby. The Augustinians turned to Spanish architect Juan Hervas, who also designed another important prewar Manila landmark, Hotel de Oriente to design the building and gave it an ornate look that was as stunning as Hotel de Oriente.
Hervas also designed an elevated walkway connecting the upper levels of Casa Procuracion to the upper levels of the San Agustin convent. This walkway would be known as a landmark in itself in old Intramuros, serving as a monument of sorts to the Augustinian contributions to the evolution of Intramuros.
An end and a start of an educational life
Sadly, Casa Procuracion’s life as a convent came to an abrupt end when on August 13, 1932, a huge fire engulfed Intramuros. Alongside the neighboring Ateneo de Manila campus and parts of Santa Isabel College, Casa Procuracion was totally burnt down, leaving only the stone foundations at the base intact.
While the structure was eventually rebuilt, the Augustinians decided to not utilize it as a convent anymore and offered it for lease. One party took interest in the property. the Greek brothers George and Lucas Adamson, who were looking for a new site for their growing school they started in 1932 as well, the Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry and Engineering. By 1939, the Adamson School settled in its new home at the old Augustinian Provincial House site. Two years later, the school officially became a university: Adamson University.
However, World War II would erupt in the country soon after. The building would suffer heavy damage throughout the war and was eventually destroyed by 1945. As a result, Adamson relocated to a new home along San Marcelino Street where it remains to this day. Meanwhile, the building would remain in ruins and untouched for several decades.
Resurrection and its current commercial life
Many sources says that in the 1980s, the property was acquired by the group of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. Yes, it seems it’s that same controversial businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., known for having held San Miguel Corporation though curiously, there is little mention or publicity about how he would develop the property.
While not much information is available, it seemed in this version of the story, the ECJ group sought to build a commercial building on the site this time around. But for this project, the pleasantly surprising decision was to build the structure as faithfully as possible to the old Casa Procuracion.
However, according to Fr. Ricky Villar, the museum of San Agustin Museum, it was the Augustinians themselves who had the building rebuilt and it was an effort dating far back to the 1970s. The Cojuangco group only acquired the property in the 1980s which was made possible by Danding’s closeness with the Augustinians. I was promised to be given more details about this as this is fairly new information and no one else has reported this version of the events.
It is unfortunate that no information is available as to who was its architect because the architect did a fine job in making sure that the details were as close as possible to the old Augustinian provincial house, sans the pitched roof it had before and that elevated walkway to the San Agustin convent which only the outer walls remain intact. (which is true up to the time of its writing).
The new structure, now christened ECJ Building bears the old grandeur of the former Augustinian convent, but inside, it is pretty much a modern structure with 5 floors of office and parking spaces. It’s amazing to think that the building has that much floors and facilities while still maintaining the height of the old building which I assume was only 2-3 floors in height.
Today, ECJ Building is a highly-occupied office building with various companies holding office here, from shipping companies to law offices. It has also received recognition and praise from the Intramuros Administration for being faithful to the Spanish period architecture the body aims to showcase and preserve as a historical and heritage area.
It is unfortunate though that there is no space in the building like a museum or gallery that would showcase the property’s rich history to the visitors that go to Intramuros each day. Having not only risen from the ashes but also built with a loving care and tribute to the site’s past, ECJ Building deserves to be recognized as a shining example of what is possible in resurrecting our long-lost heritage.